Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Hidden Depths of Goldfish

I once read, or heard it said, that goldfish have a three-second memory span. Or thirty-seconds. I don't remember which.

But I don't believe it.

I've been going out to our fishpond every morning for the last several weeks and dropping some fish food into the tank. When I first started doing this, the fish seemed suspicious, like they were thinking I was out to try to poison them for some reason, don't know why, maybe to get my hands on their fish fortunes, for all I know.

Gradually, though, they came to trust me and the food I sprinkled on them and would start swimming over to me whenever they saw me looming. They were obviously expecting their morning manna.

They were something to see, too. They'd come rushing around, knocking each other over and out of the way, calling out, "Hey, everybody, it's the fish-food man. Hey, you brought me food before. You got any food for me today? Spill it, big man. Feed me. Feed me. Throw me something, mister."

This behavior of theirs indicated to me that they had memories that could stretch back longer than the time it took them to flap their gills a couple of times and flip their fins.

It also seemed to indicate they possessed a means of constructing their own mythologies, populated by their own fishy archetypes of gods and heroes, monsters and villains. In the morning, when I brought food, I was like Demeter in the Spring to them; but in the afternoon, when I was there to skim the dead leaves off the surface of the water, I was Poseidon, boiling up storms across the face of the Aegean.

Stupid fish.

Overactive imaginations, but stupid, all the same.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Going Down in Flames

My brother Jimmy called me from our home town of Crowley just now to tell me that a pie factory on my street was on fire and was I okay?

Now, me, I was downstairs with the TV turned on to Turner Classic Movies. I had gotten up real early and had channel-hopped until I'd come across an old Perry Mason movie I felt pretty certain would put me back to sleep. It did, and I slept well and deep until the phone rang and my brother Jimmy's voice cried out, saying, "There's a pie factory on fire in New Orleans. Are you all right?"

My first, immediate thought was that he might have been having a vision of something about to befall me, and it had come to him in the form of a pie factory burning down. Our sainted Sicilian mother used to have visions and premonitions. Hers were never outright clear either. They spoke to her in metaphors and symbols, and she had to learn to interpret them—or wait for something catastrophic to happen before she could tell what her vision had meant to begin with.

But Jimmy had long before left the one true church our mother had raised us in to become a Baptist like his bride; and Baptists don't have visions. They just get saved at some point in their lives and go about their business for the rest of the duration, leaving all the mumbo-jumbo stuff to the gypsies and the Catholics.

It turned out, though, Jimmy hadn't had a vision. What he'd had had been a news report he'd seen on This Morning in Acadiana that described a fire at the Hubig's Pie building over on Dauphine Street in the Faubourg-Marigny.

And it also turned out he hadn't thought I might have been inside a pie factory in the dark, early hours before dawn, but that the pie factory might have been in my neighborhood and caught me on fire in the process of undergoing its own flammary obliteration.

You have to understand, we come from a real small town in the country where a fire in north Crowley might easily consume parts of east Crowley and south, because they're all just about in the same place to begin with. So his fear was conceived in the knowledge of his own personal geography.

And I was touched by his concern.

I explained to him that I was fine, our house was fine, the air conditioning was running, and we still had water. I was grateful he had thought to call me, but that everything would work out for the best. I explained to him that Hubig's Pies would just rebuild, bounce back, and light their ovens up once again.

That's what we do in New Orleans. If Katrina couldn't break us, a fire sure won't stand in our way for long. We might be damp and moldy; but we are a race of web-footed phoenix birds down here, inevitably drooping but invariably reborning.

Why, in the last few years alone, we've risen above the waves of the great Federal flood of Twenty-Aught-Five. The Verti-Marte might have burned to the ground, but Chel and Sam re-built. Rocky and Carlo's did the same. There's no earthly reason to assume Simon-the-Pie-Man won't rise up again, as well.

You see, Hubig's Pies are important to New Orleans. They matter. And if you have to ask why, you'll never be a New Orleanian. Mark my words, Hubig's crust will rise again! Until that day, I just might manage to lose a few pounds.

Ya gotta look on the bright side.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Payback's a Blessing

Veronica, Derrick, Rebecca, Nelson, Karen, Ben, Doug, Jeff, and Diana
I don't usually get all moist and misty around here, and I don't intend to do it now. But I cannot let this last production of Standing on Ceremony pass into memory without scratching out a few words of gratitude.

The playlets that comprised our evening's entertainment might not have been the stuff of classic material; but they were, each of them, heartfelt and "of the moment." Not too much of this, not too little of that, each one of them was just right.

The talented people in this picture (along with our technical crew, Brad) make up one of the reasons that I crawl out of my home to do this kind of thing every now and then. They gave me back a sense of joy in theatre-making I had not felt for some time. Each one of them was exuberant, kind, and considerate.

For a few weeks, I had the pleasure to bask in their light. I found it warm and sunny.

"Thank you" is all I can think of to say to them.

I hope that that will be just right.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Facebook Is Destroying My Last Thread of Self-Worth

Yesterday, I went onto Facebook and posted my final item having to do with our production of Standing on Ceremony. Before the day was over I had received a comment from someone I do not know that said, "STOP SPAMMING ME," in capital letters, which means he was YELLING at me! Now, I do not know
  1. this person,
  2. his phone number,
  3. his address,
  4. his marital status (which I doubt),
  5. his likes or dislikes, nor
  6. what the hell his mother ever did to him to make him such a disagreeable excuse for a human being.
What I do know about him, because I am bleeding from the palpable heart of my soul, is that he hurt my goddamn feelings. And, in spite of this shabby treatment from him, I am not a little sad that soon he will discover how God annihilates with forceful, technicolor vengeance all those people who do this kind of thing to me.

This person's unwarranted high-assed attitude totally ruined what was left of last evening and this morning, so it was with some hesitation that I ventured back onto Facebook later in the day to find a post from one of the people working on the production that read, "This is gonna be a grind today. 7am-3pm at the [hotel]; close the play tonight in New Orleans, skip the cast party and head back to Slidell to the [other hotel] for the 11pm-7am shift."

Cast party? Nobody told me there was going to be a cast party.

I am numb. No invitation? Wha...? What?

I find myself longing for the days of our not-so-distant past when people did not broadcast to the world their every thought and half-baked musing. When people still met you head-on, face-to-face, and eye-to-eye. When your friends were stalwart and true and treated you with the kind of heartfelt sincerity that lied through gritted teeth in order to protect your self-esteem and make you feel damn good about yourself. By God, I miss all that Teddy-Roosevelt kind of stuff.

The very image of it is seared in sepia in my brain.

The only thing left for me to do is to gird my loins, return to the scene of the crime, and unfriend all those two-faced phonies like I was deboning a chicken.

But not for a few days.

First, I want to publish this, then post it to Facebook—after tagging them all by name so they'll be sure to read it (even Mr. Don't Spam Me).

After that, I'll drop them.

I'll drop them like hot coals from my manly hands, like so many smelly urchins from around my dinner table.

Mess with me, will ya?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

In This Post, I Talk about Sex; So You Might Want to Skip It

Pick the gay guy. Nope, not him.
Just kidding, you're right.
I lied, you're wrong... ;-)
As you may or may not know, I've been working as a contributing director on this little production about marriage among the gay people called Standing on Ceremony. Standing on Ceremony is a Capra-esque fantasy, a little picnic basket full of short one-act plays that are funny and poignant and deal with people who find one another and want to stay together and have things like insurance and retirement benefits to go along with their stemware and Cuisinarts. The kind of things that people the whole world over want. Well, maybe not people in the Third World; but they will want these things once they get running water and the Big Mac, mark my words.

I don't want to talk about the Third World, though. What I want to talk about here is this: that I have discovered something about people, myself included, while working on this play. There are things I do not know about the gay people, and I'm pretty confident you don't either. Like, for instance, what it is that makes the gay people different from the general population, what they are that other people aren't!

You think you'd know that, wouldn't you? You'd think it would be pretty easy to figure out.

You'd be wrong.

Okay. Try again. No, not her. Her!
Maybe back in the late 1940's or the 1950's, you might have been able to tell. I mean, if a girl went around looking like Rosie the Riveter, and WWII had been over for something like ten years or more, you might have a clue; or if a guy wore his neckties long... well, that was a sure giveaway.

Today, you're working without a net.

Let me tell you what I mean. There are ten actors in this play. Six are men, four are women.

Three of the guys are pretty obviously of the friendly persuasion. They talk about boyfriends and call each other "girl." I say "three." Actually, it is possible one of them is trying to pass. You get those kinds of people every now and then. Confused, unpopular, they just want to belong, but they're not sure where. They usually grow out of it—whatever it turns out to be.

Of the four women, I cannot tell. No, that's not entirely true. There is one gal who could probably take me in a back alley free-for-all, and I'm a pretty robust guy. So, for the sake of argument, let's put her on the Big-Girl side. That leaves three other ladies whose square pegs are pretty-near impossible for me to fit into the round holes of my board. (Pardon my awkward phraseology, but I think you get my drift.)

So what we got is three gals and three (or maybe four) boys who are indeterminate to me. I cannot tell. They could all go either way. Or both. Or none. Or not.

This behavior just demolishes everything I thought I knew about the Kinsey scale. These kids today are just skating all over the damn thing from top to bottom, or left to right, however old Dr. K. intended it to go. They don't stop long enough for us to staple that tag to their ears like we do to those beasts in the wild whose ways we want to track.

It makes me wonder if this is something new or was this already happening back when Kinsey started all this mess; why he decided to use a scale and not just a name tag that read, "Hey! It's Nice to Meet You! I Am 'This' or 'That!' You Wanna Do It?"

Having been around the block as many times as I have been so far, I'm inclined to think that this is nothing new in the world today. That people have been skirting the issue of "this" or "that" in their own private lives as long as there have been people on this planet—or even penguins. That men or women who, when they want to have the sex thing, will manage to have it one way or another. And that when they fall in love, they're going to fall in love with the person they were meant to fall in love with. Gender might not even be a variable in the equation. Who knows? I don't.

So I say, go and gather ye rose buds while ye may, make hay while the sun still shines (always being careful to practice safe-hay and avoid those needles in your haystacks). And if... No. When you fall in love, love that person with all your heart, with all your body and with all your soul, and with all your joy and all your sadness.

And may your stemware not arrive all shattered in the box.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Some Nice Words from the MSM

So I'm doing a little directing in this little production over at Saint Anna's Little Episcopal Church, and this morning a little review came out online from nola.com. It's a nice review from a thoughtful and astute reviewer (of course, he's thoughtful and astute, he liked my work!) named Mr. Theodore P. Mahne (it rhymes with "Norman Maine").

In the review, Mr. Mahne says things like:
"The most overtly funny piece of the evening is Paul Rudnick’s 'My Husband,' in which [Ben] Carbo plays Michael, a single gay man, whose 'liberal Jewish Democrat' mother seeks to speed along her son’s settling down, while one-upping her friends. To achieve this, she sends a marriage notice to the Times reporting that he’s now engaged to a 'cardiac surgeon who only operates on gay children from Third World countries.' The clich├ęd stereotypes are broad, but Karen Shields plays it well."

(I directed this piece.)
And he says something like:
"Neil LaBute is not a playwright one expects to encounter in such a lineup. His 'Strange Fruit' is the most direct in addressing sex before taking a melodramatic turn. In the dual monologues performed by D. Michael Stevens and Jeff Mallon, he also cruelly reminds the audience that gay men and women are victims of violence, despite whatever civil rights advances have taken place. It is a jarringly effective piece."

(I directed this bit, too.)
Damned if he doesn't then turn around and practically crow that:
"The most poignantly touching piece of the night, 'London Mosquitoes' by Moises Kaufman, takes the form of a eulogy. As Joe, mourning his partner of 46 years, [Doug] Mundy gives a sublimely beautiful performance asking whether they needed official recognition of their long union."

(Guess who directed this one?)
A pithy and perceptive writer, this Mr. Mahne.

(He also says some nice things about the playlets directed by my co-directors, Karen Shields and Frederick Mead; but this is my blog. They can go write their own.)

Friday, July 13, 2012

Teeth Cleaning and Soul Searching

I had an early-morning appointment to get my teeth cleaned yesterday.

I like going to my dentist.

Maybe that's because I haven't got as many teeth left in my mouth for him and his staff to hurt.

That's a joke, son. That there what I just said isn't true. It's hyperbole. I have as full a set of teeth as any other country-raised boy who came along in the backward South before modern preventive dentistry gained its ascendancy.

What I'm trying to get around to saying is that my dentist and the hygienist who works on cleaning my teeth are relaxing people. They soothe. They coo. They're good at making you melt into that chair they tilt you in to get a good hold on your jaw so they can dig and scrape and grind around your bones.

But none of that is what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the drive I take to get to my dentist's office.

My dentist is on Carrollton Avenue, way up by the Mississippi River where Carrollton meets Saint Charles Avenue. I call it the mouth of Carrollton Avenue, like you would call someplace the mouth of a river.

Now, I could take Esplanade Avenue to Carrollton and turn left to get to my dentist. The same with Orleans Avenue or Tulane Avenue. I could even take the circuitous Claiborne Avenue to Carrollton. All these routes would lead me right to my doctor's door.

The thing is I don't like Carrollton Avenue early in the morning. It's full of people rushing off to work like a bunch of bees in a sunflower field. Too hectic, heedless, and mindless.

On the other hand, I could take Saint Charles Avenue to Carrollton, but Saint Charles is a way-too-overrated street below the universities. It's where old New Orleans money just keeps getting older and older, and the Coty translucent powder lays crackling in the heat and damp. Nowadays there are not too many people going anywhere on Saint Charles for any reason other than to look at the outsides of the houses.

So I always end up taking Prytania Street. It's a little out of the way, but I like it. I don't have a logistical reason. I've never spent much time trying to figure it out. But it's a nice street. It's a pretty street, too, with it's grand houses. It's one of the few remaining two-way streets in New Orleans. You can't drive too fast, and the other drivers won't let you drive too slow.

I guess that kind of explains my liking for it. It's not too much of this. It's not too little of that. It's just right.

I take Prytania to Napoleon Avenue. There I take a right for one block then turn left onto Saint Charles Avenue. Why Saint Charles? Because from here on out to the mouth of Carrollton Avenue, Saint Charles undergoes a change in attitude. This area is near to Loyola and Tulane Universities.

What you begin to see in this neighborhood are college students out walking, jogging, waiting for streetcars. Sure, they're full of themselves. They think they're all that when they're really just thick and kind of dumb. But they're young and pretty. They dress up the landscape. And that's nice. Besides, life will probably rough them up a bit in the years to come, rubbing off the rough edges and softening their souls. A fair trade for the diminution of youthful vitality.

Come to think of it, those kids are a pretty nice reward for leaving home a little sooner than I should have to and taking the more out-of-the-way road to my final destination.

Thanks, y'all.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The Chaos Is Your Friend

I'm beat, bushed, whipped, and hanging myself out to dry.

We open our little compendium of playlets this week (tomorrow night, in fact), and, true to form, our nights have gotten hectic. Up until Sunday, everything had been copacetic and cozy as we rehearsed our actors in the little time slots we all found convenient. But on Sunday, we moved into our venue to begin our technical rehearsals, and everything became a mess.

"Mess" is what happens when you start using objects made of metal and glass which require power cords and electrical sockets. It's when you put costumes on the actors and find out that the measuring tapes were somehow defective and nothing fits. It's when your actors start forgetting what they've been saying and doing every night and day for the past two weeks.

This is all bizarre and unexplainable, perhaps; but it is inevitable.

This "messiness," as I call it, is a very important part of the process of putting a production on its feet. The trick is to bow humbly to the chaos and let it run its course.

Too many times, though, too many people want to control the chaos. It can't be done.

Even here, working on this little piece, one producer or another will take turns melting down when a sound cue is late or louder than it has to be or a light goes out when it should go on. I try to take them aside to explain that each of these machines is just as temperamental and insecure as a lead actor. They both require the same hugs and sweet nothings purred into their ears—followed by a swift kick to send them out onstage.

Yes, a little humility in the face of chaos works wonders. One should never forget that the purpose of all this frantic and seemingly meaningless rocking and rolling is to conceive a little bit of art.

And it will.

In spite of us all, it will.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

I Went to Another Play Last Night

And now I remember why I stopped going to plays.

This was a three-character work, highly regarded in those circles that highly regard chimpanzees who can tap on typewriter keys.

But perhaps I am not being fair to the playwright, because I recall thinking early in the first act that I should get a copy of the script to read later on. That way, I could find out what it was all about.

You see, I could hear and understand only one of the actors, and I was in the second row. (The fact that I could hear and understand one of them indicates to me that I am not going deaf—not yet.)

There's an old saying, however, that goes, "When God closes a door, He opens a bedroom window you can climb out of before her husband storms in with a shotgun and catches the two you together." So it was for me: at different moments of obfuscation in the play, my mind was able to slip out of that window and poke around the landscape of its own making.

For instance:
  • There was a moment in the first act when one of the characters changed his shirt. In doing so, he revealed a gymnasium-enhanced torso free of any hint of hair whatsoever (even under the pits!). I wondered why. He was supposed to be a book editor back in New York. Do book editors in the Big Apple have that much time to spend with their Bowflexes and body-waxes? Book editors should look like Wallace Shawn; he has the pedigree. And what about our character's legs? Were they as buff and buffed of hair as his upper half? Then, of course, I thought of, you know, all the rest. Does total hairlessness in the adult not creep out anyone else but me? And how much stubble-burn can this induce in a sexual partner? The play never came back around to address these burning issues. Sloppy writing? I ask you.
  • A lot of recent press had been given over to the fact that the leading lady appeared totally nude in the play. Now, I was raised by my sainted Sicilian mother to respect all ladies, so I'm going to refrain from asking out loud if those tatas of hers might not have been lifted and separated and lifted some more by a couple of hands other than the Creator's. Nope, I stand mute. What I will ask, though, is, why, when she has stood facing the audience with nothing but her wig on does she then cover her bosoms when she turns her back on all of us to advance upon her partner? 'S'up wi' dat?
  • Which brings up another question: why, when he is left alone in an Amsterdam hotel room, does the third character get out of bed, naked, and wrap himself in the bed sheet? Who is he being modest for? And if the room is supposed to be cold, shouldn't he be wrapping himself around the shoulders and not the waist? Wouldn't little dicky-bird already have crept back into the nest? Hmm?
Looking back, you know, it seems I might have been enjoying myself more than, at first, I thought I did.

Yeah.

I should see more shows!
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